Chapter 1 - The Woman
The forest was dark, damp, and gloomy. A frozen wind cut through the protective shell of metal between myself and the world, chilled rainwater seeping through the cracks in my armor, soaking into the leather and cotton beneath. Though the cold did little to my already frozen, lifeless flesh; the water chafed. Thick mud pulled on my boots as I marched between the trunks of lush trees, leaves blocking the sky from view. Water droplets fell from above, pitter pattering on my soaked hood. I’d grown to hate the rain wandering through this damned forest for the better part of a day. Sick of seeing nothing but trees all the time, squelching through miles of mud, and tripping on a root every two feet.
Clad in ornately engraved black plate armor and matching shield, black hood and cloth hiding most of my face, I strode through the waterlogged forest. Upon my shoulder rested a gigantic greatsword forged from blue steel. Decorated in intricate metalworking, a large blue gem set within its silver hilt, the weapon shimmered faintly in the gloom. Once wielded by a great hero who had fallen to an evil power known only as “the abyss” the greatsword itself possessed powerful divine strength; Artorias’ Greatsword. It had served me well in my journeys, simplistic style of power over speed and timing over frequency its calling card. The weapon had no tricks of its own, relying on its master for proper cunning and tactics.
I traveled Lordran to kill a man called Lord Gwyn and replace him in his duty. Required to ring the Bells of Awakening, acquire a sacred artifact called the “Lordvessel,” and fill it with the souls of Lords, I would enter the Kiln and battle Gwyn to Link the Flame in order to restore the Age of Fire. I cannot remember who gave me this duty, nor can I remember why completing it infatuated me so. Perhaps I did this because no other calling came to me? I understood this was my purpose but felt no attachment to it having accomplished this task many times before but for some odd reason always found myself right back at the start. What point was there in doing a job never truly done? When would I finally be released from the endless cycle? I shook my head to clear such maddening thoughts from my mind, better not to dwell too much on such things. I would do my duty, Fate demanded it.
Do not think, act.
Light flashed, trees groaning, a fantastic explosion of sound rattling the world and I. Lightning, I could smell burnt wood as I walked. It must have struck directly ahead of me. Dark amusement flashed through my dull mind as I imagined something so unlucky as a lightning strike sending me to the Bonfires. With a melancholy sigh I looked up through the forest canopy. Death really was a joke to me. I was immortal. No matter how many times I died I would always appear next to the Bonfires dotting Lordran, enemies once defeated returned and souls once carried lost. Perhaps one day something might change? Perhaps I might discover a new Bonfire, a new path to somewhere I’d dubiously missed over the last few centuries? It had been centuries hadn’t it? I couldn’t recall when my duty started, Lordran and its cycle my only real memories.
It didn’t matter.
“Hello?” I froze in alarm, not daring to move, “Hello?” I leapt behind a tree, back pressed against it, and stared out into the downpour. I listened for the slightest change in the forest, tuning out the drumming rain and growling thunder. “Hello?” I brought my shield up and stressed to merge with the tree, sword ready, “Can anyone hear me?” The voice sounded female, coming from beyond the other side. I slipped around the tree trunk squinting through the falling rain, straining to spot the speaker, “Please! Someone!” She sounded afraid, confused, lost. I smothered the urge to reply. There was no margin for error. I had not found a Bonfire in days. Abruptly a woman stumbled out from behind a tree trunk.
My breath caught.
Long flowing red hair drifting through the air like ocean surf and glowing bright orange in the gloom, an odd pair of pointed ears poked up from beneath. Skin lightly tanned, body frail and vulnerable yet retaining a slight edge of potential. She was no warrior, but nor was this woman entirely defenseless. A number of bruises dotted her skin, perhaps from the landing? The looked old though, a punishment beating? Was she a servant? Regardless I was stunned, gazing out from beneath my dripping cowl and gobbling the spectacle up with extreme prejudice. She was grossly incandescent, utterly perfect, shining with a beautiful light that warmed my cold and clammy limbs and lifted the heavy weight of my soaked equipment. A great blazing sun blossomed in my chest, the rain’s influence evaporating along with my dour and suspicious mood. I was fixated upon her, never before having seen a creature like her. Of course there was Gwynevere, but she was a goddess, and gigantic. A relationship with the Princess of Sunlight was nothing more than a fool’s delusion. Shaking my head roughly I regained what little logic and sense I could, forcing my mind to sharpen. I re-attached my shield to the harness on my back and sheathed the oversized great sword.
“Hello?! Anyone!?” I could only see her profile, woman turned away. I yearned to call out to her, that she might turn to me. The words scorch my throat, burning to blast out into existence, and I clawed at the tree bark chewing my lip. She stumbled away clamboring over branches and roots, splashing through puddles, wading through the mud and rain. I followed blindly, something in my chest twitching every time she fell or cried out, feet unable to turn away or halt no matter what I told them. Her fiery red hair began to dim, mud and rubbish encroaching upon it, yet a brilliant halo shone around her no matter how dirty and marred her appearance became. “Hello?” I blinked. A pair of green eyes had locked with my own, piercing straight into my consciousness, enthralling me. Her lips were thin, cheeks soft, brow high, jaw solid, lashes long. Face gorgeous and breathtaking, body alluring and seductive, yet her eyes drew me in the most. They twinkled and flashed, sparkling in the gloomy rain with green fanfare and dazzling color. A hand reached weakly out to me, caked in mud and dripping with water. Instinctively, I reached my own out and gingerly took the frail thing, holding it with the care a mother would a freshly born child. The hand seemed so small, so weak, as if just being touched threatened to shatter it. The black gauntlet encasing my hand seemed so out of place holding such a beautiful little thing so softly, so lovingly. An instrument of war, it appeared a cruel, evil, possessing five pointed talons filed down to points in the visage of something akin to a claw. I had never expected to see the gauntlet so carefully enclosed around something so beautiful, “Who are you?” The woman cooed.
A door slammed on my euphoria.
Before me was a dirty woman caked in mud with the eyes of one lost in an unfamiliar land begging for the help and assistance of another. She looked a long-since dulled diamond pried from a pile of rot and junk, a bauble one would find discarded on the roadside. She knelt before me, slightly hunched, the very definition of innocence and frailty; a lost child who had just found a potential escape from the horrors it had experienced. I was that escape. A hulking man of black plate armor, face obscured by a cowl and cloth mask, exotic handle of Artorias’ Greatsword peeking over my shoulder, sapphire glowing ever so softly that neither she nor I noticed. I looked down at her with the authority of a god, a flick of my wrist could end her story. “Help me.” Those words fell mutely upon my ears, like snowflakes on skin, barely noticeable but holding a strange wonder, “Please.” Liquid streamed down her cheeks, “I don’t know where I am.” My mind offered no council, conscience silent, watching to see what I might do, “I don’t know what’s going on.” She inched closer, “Who are you?” A light of hope began to shimmer in those bright green eyes of jade, “Are you him? Are you the one I’m to meet?” Thunder rumbled in the distance, posing a question to me. I cocked my head in thought, entertaining the idea. Then, like a rose blooming for the first time or the sun breaking through the dark clouds of an early morning, a thought came to me: I had never met this woman. Never, in all the cycles and years that had come and gone, had I seen someone like her. Again thunder grumbled, question repeating. I opened my mouth and, far, far away in a place long forgotten and badly neglected something stirred.
“No.” I croaked, vocal cords shaking off the dust that had gathered upon them. I hadn’t spoken a word in what felt like years.
“Then,” She trailed off a moment, looking around vainly, “Who are you?” I shrugged indifferently. Long had I wondered who I was, whether I had a name and how I’d come to live in this forsaken land. Yet, as most thinking I did ended, I forgot the reason I’d started. I remembered nothing about myself or if there ever was a me. Identity, name, what was I but Chosen Undead? My mind turned to more important matters:
This woman. While she did not seem to be a threat I was doubtful she could offer me anything in return. Yet I had to do something for her. What remained of my humanity pined for her, wishing to offer help and guidance, reward or no. Shaking off her hand, her expression turning fearful, I stepped under a large tree and sat on one of its beefy roots. Beckoning the woman over I opened my bottomless box, withdrawing an old set of knight armor I’d used quite extensively long ago as well as a large rag,
“Here.” I offered the rag and apparel. She frowned,
“Why would I need these?” She pointed at the armor, “That isn’t clothing just rusty and dented plate armor.” I nodded down at her nakedness and she squealed. Snatching the rag and armor she struggled to cover herself, “Why didn’t you say anything?!” She swiped a hand at me, I leaning back to dodge the slap, “And turn around you ass!” I cocked an eyebrow and replied,
“No.” She gasped in shock,
“How can you call yourself a gentleman?!”
“I don’t.” I said bluntly,
“Well you’re a knight aren’t you?!” She snapped, “Why don’t you act like one?!” I looked down at my engraved, extravagant, black armor as well as my exotic sword and shield. Her observation held some truth though that would kill her in this world,
“Never assume.” I mumbled, “Or you die.” Jade eyes widening the woman stepped back clutching the armor and rag tightly,
“Stay back.” She grabbed a stick pointing it at me, “Or else!” Her voice quivered, body shaking. Trembling from the cold weather and her own fear, hair draped about in wet and muddy hunks that clung to her smooth skin, eyes darting about, irises glinting in the dreary light, pupils waxing and waning as they adjusted for maximum clarity; she was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. Or the strangest thing I could remember seeing. So vibrant and alive, expression constantly changing, I wondered if she was an illusion or hallucination?
“Who are you?” I asked, head swaying side-to-side as I studied her. Her eyes narrowed,
“I,” She raised her chin and looked down her nose at me, “Am Princess Orlai of Aliva, first in line for the Dawn Throne.” I stared. “You must have been born beneath a rock and educated by insects!” The woman scoffed, “To not even bow in the presence of royalty!” I smiled behind the cloth, cheek muscles growing sore from the near-unique action. She was amusing,
“How did you come here?” I coughed, jerking a thumb over my shoulder towards the scorched wood and water-filled crater. She eyed me suspiciously for a moment before stepping behind a bush,
“I was sent here.” She grunted from the other side, “For a very important reason.” I hadn’t asked for a reason but played along,
“Naked?” I grunted,
“No!” She snapped, “I had the finest combat dress and my mother’s own enchanting staff as well as four faithful knights to accompany me on my quest. I came here for someone called ’Chosen Undead.’” I twitched, resisting the urge to draw steel, “I am to retrieve him and end the false world he inherits.” She made several strained sounds, arms occasionally reaching above the bush as she struggled into her new armor, “I cast a spell to come here, however it appears someone did not acquire the correct catalyst I needed.” She dropped something with a loud thud and dismissive scoff, “This smells and it’s stained.” I ignored her, turning to my own thoughts as she dressed in her private bush. What were my own thoughts at the moment?
This woman was strange, and what of her companions and equipment? Was she a magician? Why my sudden overwhelming interest in her? I would pause at times on my tireless journey, rarely, but never for more than several minutes. I’d been with this woman for what felt like much longer. Most though importantly what did she want with me, Chosen Undead? And what did she mean “false world?”
“Hello?” Orlai’s face filled my vision. I jumped to my feet, grabbing at the handle of my sword, “Whoa wait, calm down!” She screamed, falling over and raising a hand defensively, “You stopped talking so I wondered what was wrong!” I grunted, stepping back and releasing my grip on the greatsword. She’d managed to equip the entire set of armor, to my surprise, except for the chest plate. The leather hung in some places and armor plates slipped about more than they should, entire set obviously several sizes too big for her, but it was better than nothing. Orlai’s expression changed gradually, eyes fixed on the sword handle gripped by my claw, anxiety twisting her lips, “Now what?” A good question. I released the sword,
“Can you fight?” I asked, throat becoming sore, and she laughed at me. I could not detect an ounce of humor in it. Why was she laughing then?
“Of course I can!” She stretched out a gauntlet, “Hand me a sword and I’ll show you my skill.” I shrugged, reaching into the bottomless box in my pack, and picked out a simple broadsword. My first weapon, fully improved with as much titanite as allowed. A fine blade, unassuming and plain appearance betraying the feats it had accomplished. Many had died to that hallowed weapon. She snatched it away, swung it about several times, and viciously stabbed an innocent tree trunk. I winced at her handling of the broadsword, amateurish at best and hardly respecting the sword. She jerked it free and held its point to the forest canopy, eying her reflection on the flat of the blade. After a moment she nodded to herself, “It’ll do.” I shrugged, handing her its sheath which she buckled around her waist, “So,” She looked up at me, “What’s your name then?” I hesitated,
“Dunno.” She frowned,
“You don’t know?” I nodded. She shook her head in disbelief, “How could you forget your own name?” I shrugged, “Then what am I supposed to call you?” I shrugged again. She put a hand to her forehead, “You must be the greatest of fools to have forgotten your own name.” A pang of anger stabbed at me and I growled threateningly, startling her somewhat. I had helped her, provided her with a means of survival. There was nothing else I needed to do. Turning on my heel I began marching through the trees resuming my trek, “Where are you going?!” She called hurrying after me,
“New Londo.” I grunted still marching,
She balked at that “What do you mean?”
I glanced at her smugly, “Undead, ghosts, water, awful smell.”
“Why are you going there then?” She asked nervously. Best to keep her ignorant otherwise invite unwanted attention. You could never trust someone asking so many questions,
“No idea.” I coughed, throat stinging now,
“What?” She sputtered, “What do you mean ‘no idea?’”
“A gut feeling?!” I nodded stiffly, “You’re walking through this miserable weather and disgusting forest to - ” She tripped on a root, stumbling, and I watched with a quiet smile as she face-planted into an impressively large mud puddle. I looked down, nodding respectfully to the branch and puddle to which she had fallen victim.
Admittedly I felt a twinge of guilt and reached down to carefully extract her from the mess she’d dubiously found her way into. She spat profusely with a few choice words, mud not the only filth spilling past her lips, expression that of pure, blind rage. Amusement hidden behind my mask I handed down a rag as she sputtered and spat. Orlai snatched the rag, fingers combing through her hair no longer flaming and bright. Painstakingly working to remove the mud and grime from hair she had cleared only moments before Orlai picked and pulled mud, dabbing with the rag. Her swearing and complaints died down, expression deflating from rage to dejected defeat. She stopped, chin dipping down and lower lip trembling, arms falling to her sides and shoulders slouching.
“Just mud.” I sighed putting a gauntlet on her shoulder. She shrugged me off and jerked away, hair whipping about, splashing me with water. I ground my teeth, why was I bothering with this woman? I had a job to do. Taking a step away, her voice stopped me,
“It’s not the mud!” She pouted crossing her arms and stomping ahead. I watched the so-called Princess pick her way through the roots much more carefully now and walk around the other side of a tree two steps in front of me. I stood there a moment. When she did not call out or return I shrugged, readying to resume my march. Her head poked around the trunk, “Aren’t you coming?” She grumbled through bared teeth. I blinked. Was I? Why would she join me or I her? Why hadn’t I just killed her or even bothered helping? I could’ve easily just left her and that would be that. Normally I was not so easily distracted, such things killed in Lordran. I had fought half-naked women before and slaughtered them without a second thought for their levels of attraction. They were enemies, hindrances, so they died. What was different about this Orlai? I could not answer myself. She took a slow step out from the tree and grasped my gauntlet, “Well?” She asked apprehensively, jade eyes gazing into my own, “You’re coming right?” Her hand was warm, seeping through the metal of my gauntlet into the dead flesh within. Why was her hand warm?
“Yes.” The voice was my own and a force pushed me on.